2017 March

March 2017

Dear friends,

March leads us into the Christian period of Lent, the forty days not counting Sundays leading up to Easter. Traditionally, Lent is a time of giving something up, whether that be cake, biscuits, alcohol or anything else that we deem that we might miss.

This mirrors the forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness fasting. The idea of fasting is an ancient tradition which seeks to heighten our spiritual awareness. It is associated with prayer, so it may mean as well as giving something up, taking more time for prayer.

Fasting may take place during a time of mourning, helping us to channel our grief towards a greater awareness of God being with us. It may take place when we face tough times and we are afraid, seeking courage and wisdom for what we are facing. It can be a means of confessing our sin and seeking forgiveness. It also may take place as we seek a spiritual breakthrough in some aspect of our lives, whether that be healing, guidance or a deepening of our faith.

The physical hunger or sense of abstinence expresses a spiritual hunger.

John Wesley points out that fasting is not an end in itself. It is a means towards a closer relationship with God in particular circumstances.

So, before you consign the contents of your cake tins to the bin or hide the biscuit jar at the back of the cupboard, ask yourself why you are doing it. Don’t just fast for the sake of fasting. What is it that you seek from God in undertaking this act of self-denial?

You may be expressing solidarity with the poor or hungry or homeless. You may be seeking guidance ahead of a major decision. Is your chosen act of self-denial the best way to do this, or is God calling you to do more? Rather than just giving up cake (or whatever) perhaps God is calling you to active involvement in their plight by giving of your time or money.

Our natural thought process is to decide what we are going to give up and then ask, assuming we do ask, what the purpose of our self-denial is. A better way is to decide the purpose of our fast and then to decide what form of fasting would suit that purpose best.

Because we seek a spiritual outcome, it may involve taking on some activity rather than just giving something up. It may mean spending more time in prayer; perhaps time in research into the particular subject that we are considering; perhaps getting involved in practical action, whether that be protest, volunteering, activism, writing to our MP or supporting those who are in need.

If fasting is a spiritual discipline that leads to holiness, John Wesley would remind us that there is no holiness without social holiness. Personal holiness cannot come without a holiness that cares for others.

I pray that as we begin Lent, God will call us to a closer walk with him and show us how best to achieve that.

 

David


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